Imran Khan’s faded popularity pushes him to gamble

Former cricket star Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan saw his popularity crumble within a few years. He is now weakened by economic mismanagement and abandoned by the army. His resort to advance legislation is a desperate political maneuver to stay in power.

imran khan He tries everything for everything, even if it means looking like a bad player. Former cricket star who became Prime Minister of Pakistan in 2018, he launched an ingenious stratagem that allowed him to avoid in extremis, on Sunday, April 3, the vote on a motion of censure by the opposition against him.

Feeling the wind change, the Pakistani leader got his ally, President Arif Alvi, to pronounce the dissolution of the National Assembly, which led to the calling of early legislative elections in 90 days.

As parliamentarians prepared to take their places in the chamber to start the impeachment procedure, the Prime Minister took the deputies by surprise, appearing on television to announce the dissolution of his body. Almost simultaneously, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Qasim Suri, loyal to Imran Khan, refused to put the motion of no confidence to a vote, claiming it was the product of alleged “foreign interference” by the US.

Prisoner of the opposition, the Supreme Court must rule on Tuesday on the legality of this refusal to put the motion of censure to a vote on Sunday.

Imran Khan knows that he is playing his best victories there in what could be his last political match. In addition, this exceptional former athlete is trying to buy time and hopes to regain his legitimacy through the ballot box. However, the operation is dangerous, because the national hero of the Cricket he has eaten up his entire popularity rating.

Broken economic promises

His party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which he helped found in 1996, remains loyal to him. As well as his allies placed in key positions of power, such as the honorary president of the Republic himself, Arif Alvi, who pronounced the dissolution of the Assembly, or the vice president of the chamber, Qasim Suri. However, the Prime Minister has more and more adversaries, including part of the Pakistani Army who had supported his accession to power.

The former cricketer has enjoyed real popularity for a long time, but has been worn down by a very bad economic situation, with rampant inflation, a weak rupee and crushing debt.

Imran Khan came to power in 2018, following the PTI’s victory in the legislative elections, on populist promises that combined social reforms, religious conservatism and the fight against corruption. As head of government, he first capitalized on his incorruptible image and society’s weariness with the traditional parties, which monopolized power for decades with the army.

During the covid-19 pandemic, his choice not to impose a national lockdown, which would have “starved” people, proved popular and successful. The 220 million Pakistanis, mostly very young, were largely spared (30,000 dead).

But, even though he had inherited damaged finances, the economic situation and his bad decisions ended up taking their tollhis declining popularity rating in recent months has led his allies within the ruling coalition to turn to the opposition in an attempt to oust him.

It is, in particular, a series of measures that put an end to tax exemptions on everyday products, adopted by his government, in order to obtain a loan from the IMF.

Discontent is also heard on the street. “When the PTI government came to power, they made a lot of promises, but they couldn’t keep any of them. They couldn’t control inflation. They have no strategy. Now the situation is so bad that I don’t think the next ones will be able to do anything to improve it,” protests a disillusioned young Pakistani, at the microphone of France 24 correspondent in Islamabad.

Former playboy turned radical sympathizer

Often accused of having restricts the space of expression of the pressImran Khan has also aroused the outrage of feminist organizations by establishing on several occasions a link between rape and the way women dress, in a country where sexual violence is common.

This son of a wealthy family from Lahore, graduated from Oxford, married three times after having maintained during his sports career a playboy reputation Accustomed to the most select nightclubs in London, he has also been criticized for his complacency towards religious radicals.

The man has changed a lot. In 1995 he married Jemima Goldsmith, a wealthy English heiress, a friend of Lady Diana. Their marriage was covered by tabloids around the world. Twenty years later, in 2018, married for the third time, he poses with his new wife Bushra Bibi, from a religious family. A sign of conservatism in Pakistan, a red veil hides the woman’s face. An evolution that reveals his growing conservatism.

The 69-year-old former jet setter is now increasingly appearing rosary in hand and vehemently defending the controversial blasphemy law.

In November, his government lifted the ban on Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), enacted in April after violent anti-French demonstrations organized by this Islamist partywho denounced France’s support for the right to caricature, in particular the Prophet Muhammad.

“Taliban khan”

His detractors even go so far as to nickname him “Taliban Khan”, attacking him for never having stopped advocating dialogue with violent insurgent groups linked to the Taliban.

Especially since the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan in mid-August has contributed to the deterioration of security in Pakistan. After several years of relative calm, attacks have resumed with renewed vigor since August, perpetrated by the Pakistani Taliban of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the regional branch of the Islamic State group (IS-K), or separatist groups. Baluchis, despite assurances from Kabul that Afghan soil would not be used for such purposes.

Dozens of people died in a suicide attack on March 4 during prayers at a Shiite mosque in Peshawarmaking this the deadliest attack the country has seen since 2018.

Army disagrees with foreign policy

Imran Khan’s efforts to position Pakistan as a key regional player have also had little effect. Ties with Washington and European countries have weakened, particularly under the effect of his anti-American positions and diatribes against Islamophobia, disguised in his eyes, in the West, under the guise of freedom of expression.

Islamabad has moved even closer to China. And Imran Khan’s official visit to Moscow on the very day the war broke out in Ukraine earned him much ridicule.

A foreign policy that is not to the liking of the all-powerful military of this country. The statements of the head of the army, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, came on several occasions to calm the ardor of the Prime Minister’s statements.

The last call to order was immediate on Saturday, a few hours after the prime minister accused the United States of having promoted the motion of censure against him. “We share a long history of excellent strategic relations with the United States, which remains our number one export market,” General Qamar Javed Bajwa immediately reported, proof that a cold has settled between the two men. One thing is for sure: the Pakistani military will not come to save the former national hero if he loses his last match.

Imran Khan currently retains his post as prime minister for a period of around two weeks, while an interim government is established.

with AFP

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